Saturday, 23 July 2011

My new favourite London pub

Photo used by kind permission of
One of the things I like about the vast, bloated metropolis that we in the provinces refer to as “that London” is that there are always new things to discover. Not necessarily newly established things either, just things that I haven’t got around to before.

London readers may look away now, as the pubs I am going to mention are surely familiar to them (and if they’re not, they should be). This post is mostly about the Royal Oak in Borough. But I actually start my evening in the Lamb in Bloomsbury, having arranged to meet a friend there. The Lamb was one of the first London pubs I ever visited and it’s remained on my list ever since. It’s central, the beer is good and I like to take friends there, since they’re invariably impressed by the immaculate Victorian interior.

It’s the first time I’ve drunk Young’s Ordinary since the move to Bedfordshire and it’s still a pleasant pint. I’m fortunate too in bagging the last free table before the place fills up. As I approach the end of my pint with no sign of my friend, I get a message. Can’t make it to the Lamb, how about the Royal Oak? Well, why not?

The Royal Oak is utterly mobbed when we arrive, and rightly so, for it is one of those pubs with something of a time warp about it, where you immediately feel at home. Ancient interior, lots of painted wood and best of all, what appears to be a genuine social mix, not just suits, pensioners or beer geeks. Even the handpumps are fascinating, a design I’ve never seen before and, delightfully, no screw threads on the spouts, so that even should some madman wish to attach a sparkler, he would be unable to do it.We are still gawping at the surroundings halfway through our first pint.

Our first pint. Harvey’s Mild. Oh, the beer! The offering is simple: the beers once offered by every family brewery in the second half of the 20th century. Mild at 3.0%. Pale Ale at 3.5%. Best Bitter at 4.0%. All cask of course. There was a time when 4.0% was the strongest regular beer.  “Ooh, careful with that,” my friend jokes when I order a pint of Old Ale, rocket fuel at 4.3%.

Then there are the bottles. Nut Brown Ale, Sweet Stout, the styles of beer that were dying out even when Michael Jackson wrote about them in the 1970s. India Pale Ale, true to style at 3.2%.

We’re hungry so we each order a pie. It’s pricey — £11 for a pie? but it’s London, we say to ourselves. When the pies arrive, though, we are convinced. Huge portions. Side dishes of obviously freshly cooked vegetables, and mountains of chips. Pies filled with enormous chunks of meat: if a pie is ever worth over a tenner, it’s here. Later, we discover there’s a secret, cheaper menu; we had just ordered from the specials on the blackboard.

The beer is heavenly. It just disappears as we chat – Mild, Pale Ale, Sussex Best and back to Mild again. The ridiculously weak Mild has more flavour than many beers of twice the strength; albeit most of it comes from the Harvey’s house yeast and the hard, minerally water. An acquired taste but one which rewards the effort.

Many pints later, we stumble out into the night, happy in the way only an evening in a perfect pub can make you. You can keep your “craft beer” bars. Give me a pub. This pub.


  1. Amazing pub. Always. Good place to get Harvey's Imperial Stout, to, although they seem to hide it.

  2. My favourite London pub by a country mile. Always my first stop when I arrive, for steak pudding and a pint of Best. Always really reluctant to leave.

  3. I like it but I prefer pubs with a bit more cosiness. I agree with you about the mild though, I'm not normally a fan but Harvey's mild can be sublime.